Hands on Impression: We’ve Played ‘Saw II: Flesh & Blood’!

The footage from Saw 3D wasn’t the only Jigsaw-related event at this year’s San Diego Comic Con – we were also invited to get a hands on demo of the new game Saw II: Flesh & Blood, which hits stores this October, just in time for the release of the new film. Our own BC played through a full level of the game, which included the usual traps and pitfalls, plus some of the new game elements (boss fight?!), all the while chatting with producer Jaime Benecia, who was not involved with the original game (the rest of the core team has returned, however).

In this game you play as Michael Tapp, the son of David Tapp, who was the hero in the first game (and looked nothing like Danny Glover, who played him in the movie). As with the first, the game takes place in that 6 month period in between the primary events of Saw I and Saw II, which allows the game developers to create a story that neither disrupts the film series’ continuity but doesn’t retread the events of a particular film either (which would be boring – who wants to play through a game knowing the twists and turns?). And Benecia tells me that Lionsgate has to approve of the characters and such, so now, Michael is officially part of the Saw canon.

The game plays out very much like the first. You control your character in a 3rd person perspective, navigating around dungeons and abandoned warehouses, hospitals, etc. As the game uses the same Unreal Engine from the first, it looks very similar – but that is a good thing. For whatever problems the original game had, no one can say that it didn’t have the LOOK of a Saw film down pat. As before, you will make your way around, searching for an exit, all the while being taunted by Jigsaw (once again voiced by Tobin Bell), eluding pesky “quick death” traps such as explosive doors, and solving larger puzzles, which could be anything from finding/pushing a heavy object onto a weighted panel to open a door, to rotating a series of hieroglyphics on circular panels to match the symbol that is carved on your chest.

However, there are some major changes. The main one being that the game will not have the same hand to hand style combat seen (and much disliked) in the first game. Instead, enemy encounters will either be Quicktime Event sequences, where you must hit buttons at the right time in order to progress (think Dragon’s Lair, or the more recent Heavy Rain), or “puzzle” based fights, in which you need to sort of let the boss enemy kill himself. For example, in the boss fight we played through, we had to trick our blind (but not deaf) enemy into falling down an elevator shaft before we could proceed. As the films are very much about using your head more than your fists, it’s good to see the game designers use the same approach, so that the game doesn’t turn into a series of mindlessly mashing attack buttons until the other guy is down.

The other major change is collectibles. While the first game had news clippings lying all around, they didn’t add up to anything – there was no reason to collect them all (not even for an Achievement/Trophy), and the story they told never seemed to tie into the story of the game. This time around, there is definitely an incentive – in addition to a checklist that can guilt you into hunting around to find the ones you missed (which nets you an Achievement for getting them all), the few I found were tied into the Tapp family story, which will allow both hardcore series fans to delight at the more obscure references, as well as provide newcomers with all the backstory they need to understand who their game hero is.

The other big collectible are “hidden” Billy dolls, one per level. In this case, they aren’t hidden like say, the pigeons in Grand Theft Auto IV; you will probably always find the location of the doll in each level. However, GETTING to the doll will be a little harder. The one I found, for example, required a combination made of three different number/color pairings, which were hidden around the level in different locations (so a green “3” might be nearby, but a red “5” might be all the way at the beginning of the level). It’s a nice way to extend the gameplay time in a way that rewards you for your efforts, but it’s also something one can skip entirely if they don’t care about unlockables and such.

Another improved area was the balance-beam “puzzles”, which were simply too easy in the original. You could just run across the planks and such without any worry – I never once fell in the game. But I had a lot of trouble getting across one this time around, so perhaps they made it a bit TOO hard (there were also some rather confusing control setups in this scenario – you need to balance with the left analog stick, but on screen they keep telling you to use the left and right triggers, which are just to make your character move forward). Hopefully the control issues will be cleared up or at least better defined in the release version.

I was slightly disappointed to hear that if anything, the game would be even MORE linear than the original, which I felt missed out on depicting a key element of the film series – the option to choose – in a video game style way (i.e. choosing whether or not to save someone from a trap). But Benecia tells me that the bulk of the people that are playing the game are not gamers, they are fans of the film, and thus such elements wouldn’t really interest them. It’s also the sort of thing that can delay a game or introduce gameplay bugs, so the upside is, they can focus on improving the core mechanics of the game rather than spend time introducing new ones that won’t be missed.

Overall it looks to be another above average movie tie-in game, with a strong emphasis on puzzle solving, something that should appeal to fans of older Resident Evil games, as the newer ones more or less dropped puzzles in favor of combat. The scares are still there, and while I only saw one location, I can definitely see the potential for some great Saw-style encounters as Tapp makes his away through Jigsaw’s game. Benecia also confirmed that Charlie Clouser’s music will be used this time around (as opposed to the generic knockoff junk in the last game), which automatically ensures a more satisfying experience for the Saw faithful. If you didn’t like the first game at all, I didn’t see anything that would really change your mind, but those who did (like myself) should be happy with the improvements that are being made, and will gladly spend several hours in Konami’s vision of the Saw world.